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The German official account of the Sydney-Emden fight (taken from Captain von Muller's report to the German Admiralty)

(German text)


My raid on the Cocos group was determined by the following considerations:
Apart from the material damage the enemy would have suffered by the destruction of the cable and wireless stations and the temporary interruption of telegraphic communications between Australia on the one hand and England and other countries on the other, I hoped also to effect
(1) a general unrest among shipping to and from Australia by creating the impression that the Emden would proceed to harry the steamer traffic south and west of Australia, and
(2) a withdrawal from the Indian Ocean of at least some of the English cruisers which were taking part in the hunting down of the Emden. My intention was, after carrying out the raid on the Cocos group, to make for Socotra and cruise in the Gulf of Aden, and then on the steamer-route between Aden and Bombay. ...

On 7 November, about 8 p.m., the Emden arrived at its appointed rendezvous with the Exford ...30 miles north of the North Keeling Island. The Exford ...was then to proceed to a rendezvous about 900 miles away in the direction of Socotra, await the Emden there as long as her provisions lasted, and then, if we did not turn up, run for a neutral harbour. The Markomannia and any other colliers which might possibly be ordered from Simalur to the rendezvous 30 miles north of North Keeling I intended to send to a Dutch Indian port (Amboina)....On the way thither the Markomannia was to make for the Nusa-Bessi Strait at the eastern end of Timor in order to send to some Dutch harbour a steamer that had been given rendezvous there.....

From about 6 p.m. on the 7th the Cocos wireless station (which had not previously been intercepted) began to send out every hour a wireless message in three-figure cypher preceded by the word "urgent." No answer followed at first, and I thought it probable that this was a secret communication to passing traders. At daybreak ( on the 8th) this message was taken in by an English warship using the signal letters " NC " (as we supposed the light cruiser Newcastle, but almost certainly the armoured cruiser Minotaur), and further interchange of messages between the warship and the land-station was intercepted by us. The (decreasing) strength of the warship's signals showed us that her distance from the Cocos was increasing; and about noon on the 8th, when this wireless conversation; after being resumed again, finally ceased, we estimated that she was about 200 miles from the Emden. I thought it probable that this was a warship on her way from Sunda Strait to the Cape Colony, where the rebellion under de Wet had just broken out. As we did not intercept any wireless messages between her and another warship, it seemed likely that no other was in the vicinity.

I had intended to attack the Cocos group on the 8th, but postponed the operation for a day because of the unusual hourly messages picked up during the night of 7-8 November and because I had not yet met the Exford. When on the morning of the 8th I picked up the warship's conversation with the shore station, I debated whether I should not delay for another day. I gave up this idea, however, as I reckoned that next morning the English warship would be quite far enough away; further I had to consider the state of my coal-supply, since my nearest safe coaling-station on the way to Socotra was at Addu atoll in the southern Maldives, about 1,500 miles off. ...

I had to reckon with the presence-not very probable, but still possible--of an enemy cruiser stationed in the group to protect the cable and wireless stations; as I did not wish to expose my collier to the risk of destruction, or even of damage by shell-fire, I ordered the Buresk to wait 30 miles north of the South Keeling group, and not to rejoin me unless she received wireless orders to do so. If the situation proved favourable, I intended to use the opportunity for coaling. ...

A little after 6 a.m., shortly after sunrise, the Emden anchored in Port Refuge. No enemy ship was stationed near the group, nor, when it grew light, was a vessel to be seen anywhere on the horizon. ...

As soon as the anchor was dropped, the landing party went ashore in the pinnace and the two cutters. ...

Lieutenant-Commander von Mücke had my orders to destroy the cable and wireless stations and if possible to cut the cables-first the Australian, next the South African, then that to the Dutch Indies. All code-books and records of messages were to be brought aboard. A recall signal was agreed on. Verbally I told Lieutenant-Commander von Mücke that, if the island was in a state of defence and garrisoned, I would give up the plan of landing and confine myself to bombarding the wireless and telegraphic stations, as a loss of personnel in this enterprise was to be avoided at all costs- this in view of the raiding campaign later on. The Emden's wireless had received orders to drown at once any wireless signals from the island.

As conditions in Port Refuge were favourable for coaling, and no enemy warship seemed to be in the immediate vicinity, I had a wireless message sent to the Buresk as soon as the boats neared the landing-stage, ordering her to join the Emden forthwith. The Buresk did not answer, as her transmitter was out of order. For this eventuality the arrangement had been made that the wireless signal to rejoin should be repeated three times. ...

The island station then asked, „What code? What ship is that?" We naturally did not answer. Soon afterwards the island station began to talk, and, in spite of our interruptions, the message „Strange ship off entrance " got through. A little while later a warship or auxiliary cruiser whose signal letters had not been heard previously in the war was heard to call up the island, but received no answer, as the station had in the meanwhile been destroyed by our landing party.

By resistance-measurements the distance of the enemy ship was estimated at 200 to 250 miles. I now abandoned my, intention of coaling and cancelled the arrangements made for it....

Towards 9 a.m. smoke was sighted to the northwards, and was presumed to be that of the Buresk soon we began to doubt. .. whether it could be the Buresk, as she was usually almost smokeless; but it was considered that the unusually dense smoke-cloud might be attributed to her having had a fire in her bunkers the day before, which was probably causing her to use the partly burnt coal; moreover she would certainly be running at top speed. ...

From the crow's nest, too, it was at first incorrectly reported that the ship in sight had one funnel and two masts. At 9.15 the landing party showed no sign of returning, so I signalled to them: "Arbeiten beschleunigen " ("Speed up the work in hand "). Soon afterwards the masts of the oncoming vessel ... were recognised as those of a warship on account of their height. Probably through an error in reckoning, she was not at first making direct for Port Refuge, but seemed to by trying to pass the group on the east side.

What followed now happened extraordinarily quickly, as the enemy warship was coming on at high speed-20 to 25 knots. I ordered steam up in all the boilers and repeated several times the recall for the landing party: then I gave the orders „Up anchor," " Clear ship for action," "Get up steam immediately to put on all possible speed." By this time it was seen that the enemy ship had four funnels, and we guessed it was the English cruiser Newcastle; only in the afternoon did we discover that she was the Australian cruiser Sydney, a ship of a very similar type. ...

About 9.30 a.m. the landing party began to re-embark, but, with the enemy quickly approaching, it was seen to be impossible to get them on board before the fight began. As soon, therefore, as the anchor was weighed, I ordered full steam ahead and set the ship on a N.N.W. course so as to improve still further our favourable position with regard to the wind until the actual beginning of the fight. My object was to attempt to inflict on the enemy such damage by gunfire that her speed would be seriously lessened, and I might be able to bring on a torpedo action with some chance of success. ...

When the Emden after weighing anchor started on her N.N.W. course, the Sydney, which up to that time had been steering south, came straight for the Emden, but, when about 13,000 yards distant and bearing about four points on the bow, swung round to a converging course. When the range-finder showed 9,800 yards I ordered fire to be opened. The first salvo, sighted for 10,300 yards, went far to the left and beyond the mark, the second went over but in the right direction; then one or two more salvoes fell short, and those which followed fell on the mark. According to observation from the Buresk, which had meanwhile come up, the spread of our salvoes in the first phase of the action was slight, and the guns were laid well on the mark. A short time after the beginning of the fight a strong flare-up was noticed on the Sydney's main deck, probably the result of a lucky hit on some cordite which it set on fire.

The Sydney opened fire immediately after the Emden, having shortly before set her course parallel. At first she shot far over the Emden, and it was quite a long time before she got our range. I have since learnt the reason. With the second salvo of the Emden two very lucky hits were scored; one shell, which unfortunately did not explode, hit the forward range-finder station (in whose neighbourhood the captain and navigating officer were standing), destroyed the rangefinder, and killed the operator. A second shell burst in the after control station and wounded all its crew, an officer amongst them.

A few minutes after opening fire I ordered the course to be altered two points to starboard in order to obtain a more suitable range for our 10.5-centimetre guns, and to make it more difficult for the
Sydney to keep on her mark. As soon as the Sydney got our range a good deal of damage was done to the Emden, and this increased so quickly that I very soon got the impression that the Sydney had gained fire superiority over us. That the Sydney's guns after but a brief interval overwhelmed the Emden's although we scored the first lucky hits and in the first phase of the fight had kept on our mark while displaying much greater speed in firing, may be attributed to the following causes:The explosive effect of the English 15-centimetre shell is considerably greater than that of the 10.5-cm. shell. The Sydney had better protection for her hull and her guns (side-armour and bigger and stronger gun-shields) ; on the Emden two guns of her broad side were without gun-shields.

The ammunition-forwarding gear in the Emden was very vulnerable; in particular it could be easily rendered useless by damage to the hoists from shell-splinters.

The range at which the fight had to be carried on, especially at the beginning, marks the outer limit for any effective use of the 10.5-cm. gun; the possibility of scoring accurate hits with the 15-cm. gun is at long and medium ranges better than those of the 10.5.

As the Sydney was 2,000 tons heavier, she rode the swell more steadily than the Emden, a factor which also affected the possibility of accurate fire.

Soon after the Sydney got our range, a shell destroyed our wireless room. Shortly afterwards a shell exploding on the forecastle, just in front of the conning-tower, put out of action the greater part of the crew of No. 1 gun and some of the men who happened to be in the lee of the conning-tower. Then the electric command transmission to the guns went wrong, so that all orders for them had afterwards to be transmitted by speaking-tube; with the noise of the combat this method proved to be very difficult and adversely affected the rate of fire and probably also the spread of the salvoes. The steering-gear in the conning-tower went wrong at the same time as tile helm-telegraph. Steering had then to be done from Section I, orders being given to that section by speaking-tube. News came back to the conning-tower that the forward funnel had fallen over to port; and from another part (probably the poop) came the report that the guns there were not getting enough ammunition.

In order to get closer to the enemy and to obstruct his range- keeping, I gave orders about fifteen minutes after the beginning of the fight to alter the course again two points to starboard, but changed this order before it was carried out to " one point to starboard," for the Sydney, owing to her superior speed, was already too far ahead of us, so that if I had made the greater turn my after-guns would have been prevented from bearing. By splinters of a shell which exploded near the conning-tower, the gunnery officer, Lieutenant-Commander Gaede, was wounded near the eye; the torpedo officer (who was also acting as manoeuvring officer), Lieutenant Witthoeft, was hit on the chin; and Ordinary Seaman Tietz, who was attending to the engine-room telegraph, and Ordnance Artificer Hartmann, who was transmitting orders to the guns, were slightly wounded. The last two had to leave the conning-tower.

About twenty minutes after the beginning of the fight news came through from Section I that the steering-gear had failed. What caused this failure of the steering-gear I have never been able to ascertain. I ordered the hand-gear to be manned; accordingly the navigating officer, Lieutenant-Commander Gropius, and the battle steersman, Able Seaman Busing, went aft to help the personnel of the after signal-station to get the hand-gear going. As nearly all the latter had been killed already, the personnel of the forward signal-station -or those whose members of it had not been already put out of action - also went aft on to the poop; the hand-gear, however, could not be moved at all, evidently because its shafting had been jammed by a direct hit. Apparently the ammunition brought up for No.4 gun had been blown up a little earlier by an enemy shell ; besides other damage, this started a strong fire under the poop which made it impossible for the navigating officer and the personnel of the signal-station to get back to Section 1. Lieutenant-Commander Gropius informed me that the hand-gear was unworkable, and then went aft again and helped to man No.5 gun. By the blast from a shell which exploded on or under the poop, he and several of the crew were afterwards blown overboard.

Meanwhile the ship, because of the failure of the steering-gear, had swung round about eight points to starboard; any farther swing was checked by means of the screws. As the fire of our starboard guns had already weakened considerably, I did not alter her course again, but let the port battery come into action. From that time on the ship was steered with the screws. During this phase of the fight the range-finders failed. The fire of the port battery soon weakened also, probably because of the lack of ammunition and the serious casualties among the gun-crews and ammunition-carriers. The officer-in-charge of the range-finders, Sub-Lieutenant Zimmerman and Gunnery Mate von Risse, who had been engaged in transmitting orders, were sent aft to help the guns, as they were of no further use in the conning-tower. Both of these were killed later in the course of the fight. From the torpedo-room came the report that the torpedo-air-compressor was now out of action.

By this time the prospect of getting within torpedo range of the enemy had become extremely small; still I did not wish to give up the attempt to attack with torpedoes, especially as the gun-fight was going more and more against the Emden; I therefore put the ship to port against our opponent. When the distance had been decreased to about 4,900 yards, the Sydney, after making an unsuccessful attempt to torpedo us (I heard this afterwards), swung sharply to starboard and stood away at high speed from the Emden. Meanwhile the fire of our guns had slackened still more. The gunnery officer, Lieutenant- Commander Gaede, who up till now had quietly controlled the gun-fire under circumstances which were continually growing more difficult, now asked my permission to go down to the guns in order to put things right there, and proposed that I should continue to pass down the ranges to him. I agreed to do so. Lieutenant-Commander Gaede then concentrated those men of the gun-crews who were still in action on two guns, and soon afterwards on one only. While engaged on this duty he was severely wounded, and died shortly after the end of the action. The transmission of orders to the guns was now working very badly, the speaking tubes being much damaged; the upper bridge had been shot away, the centre and after funnels knocked over, and the foremast went overside, carrying with it the Adjutant Sub-Lieutenant von Guerard, who had been stationed in the crow's nest as auxiliary observer for the guns, and Signalman Metzing.

After the Sydney had fired its torpedo and turned away, I wanted to make a second attempt to get within torpedo range of the enemy. I was not, however, able at first to send through the exchange to the starboard engine the order „Stop the starboard screw." I therefore sent the message orderly, Ordinary Seaman Werner, twice along the deck to the engine-room skylight to call down-the necessary orders. After some time, however, it again became possible, although with some delay, to send orders to the starboard engine by way of the exchange and the port engine. My order was "Everything you can get out of the engines“; but even at this second attempt my opponent would not let me get nearer than 5,500 or 6,000 yards. Our engines could now only attain a rate of 115 to 120 revolutions, which means a speed of 19 1/2 knots, probably because the funnels had been shot away, and the furnace doors had, in consequence, to be left open to avoid danger from gas and smoke; further, one or two boilers had ceased functioning during the action.

In the meantime our gun-fire had completely collapsed, so I swung away from the Sydney by stopping the starboard engine. Shortly afterwards I was informed from the torpedo-room that it must be abandoned on account of a leak from a shot under water. Before this a smaller leak, also caused by a shot under water, had been plugged by the torpedo personnel, led by the second torpedo-officer, Prince Franz Josef von Hohenzollern. As it was now impossible for me to damage my opponent in any way further, I decided to put my ship, which was badly damaged by gun-fire and burning in many places, on the reef in the surf on the weather-side of North Keeling Island and to wreck it thoroughly, in order not to sacrifice needlessly the lives of the survivors.

Shortly before grounding, which happened about 11.15a.m., I had both engines stopped; immediately after the impact I ordered „Full speed ahead" again so as to jam the ship on the reef as thoroughly as possible. Then I ordered fires to be drawn in all boilers, and all the engine and boiler rooms to be flooded; also, as the Sydney at first continued firing, I gave permission to everyone on deck, or who came on deck, to drop overboard and swim to the island.

When the Emden gave up her second attempt to get within torpedo- range of the Sydney as impossible, the Sydney had also turned to starboard and followed us in a running fight towards the north-west. The commander of the Sydney (as I heard from him later) wanted to prevent our running ashore. The Sydney swung to port, described a complete circle, ceased firing at I 1.20 a.m., several minutes after the Emden had run ashore, and then went off in pursuit of the collier Buresk.

[Here follows an account of the losses aboard the Sydney]

During the night preceding the 9th of November the Buresk had been carried by a current about twelve miles to the north-west of her proper course. After she had received the order to rejoin the
Emden, she came south at her utmost speed. At 8.30 a.m., when she was still about five miles north of North Keeling Island, she sighted a heavy cloud of smoke eastwards, which at first she thought came from a merchant vessel; later on it was seen to be a warship, which was steering, however, not for South Keeling Island, but leaving this on the west. About 9.30 a.m. the Buresk was about five miles south-east of North Keeling Island, when she sighted the Emden with flags flying at her topmast, and observed that the ship previously seen was making for the Emden. The Buresk then proceeded slowly, and after a time turned northwards to await the result of the action; when she realised later on that it would probably turn out badly for the Emden, she tried to get a way north-westwards. About 11.50 a.m. she noticed that the Sydney was chasing her; it seemed impossible to get away, and Lieutenant-Commander of the Reserve Klopper had the ship cleared to sink her. About 1 p.m. the Sydney signalled her to stop, whereupon she stopped, all the Kingston valves in the engine-room were opened. the small arms were thrown overboard, the secret papers burnt, and the wireless station destroyed. Meanwhile two boats were cleared and provisioned for the reception of the Chinese stokers and the remaining crew in case the Sydney refused to take the Buresk's crew aboard her. While the Buresk lay stopped, the Sydney fired a live shot over her, whereupon she signalled to the Sydney in Morse: "There are Englishmen aboard" ( the steward and cook of the Buresk's original crew) . The Sydney answered: „Haul down your flag," and the flag was then hauled down and sunk. About half-an-hour later a cutter with two officers and a prize crew of about ten men came aboard. The prize-officer demanded that the Buresk should follow the Sydney to take over the Emden's crew, but was told that the boilers had been blown out and that the

ship was sinking. The Buresk's crew was then ordered to take to the boats and join the Sydney, and the Sydney, after taking the men aboard, took in tow the two boats and steamed back slowly to North Keeling Island.

Meanwhile on the Emden the engine-room, the boiler-rooms, and also (for fear of danger from fire) the magazines were flooded, the guns were made unserviceable by throwing overboard the breech-blocks and destroying the sights, the torpedo-director was thrown overboard, and all the secret papers that had not been already burnt were destroyed, The torpedo-room was now full of water from the leak already mentioned; the main fires were smothered as far as possible. The wounded were attended to by Staff Surgeon Dr. Luther; seriously wounded men were brought on to the forecastle. When I had given men leave to swim to land just after we ran ashore, and while the Sydney was still firing, several men had jumped overboard and reached the shore about 100 yards away through the surf. Some it seems were unfortunately drowned in the attempt; others were

pulled on board again from the water after the Sydney had ceased firing. An attempt was then made by paying out a line to establish a hawser communication with the island, in order, by means of a breeches-buoy, to transfer to the shore the personnel still left on board, together with provisions and drinking water. But all attempts to effect this, both on this and the following day, failed because the strong current setting across prevented floats from reaching the shore, while the line usually got hooked behind coral-rocks, and then broke.

About 4 p.m. the Sydney was again sighted to the westward. As she had two boats in tow, we imagined that she intended taking the survivors on board. When a fairly long. distance from the Emden the boats were cast loose, and the Sydney steamed past the Emden's stern at a distance of about 4,300 yards, As she had international signals flying I sent a Morse message by flag-" No signal-book aboard," for our signal-book had been burnt. When the Sydney had passed our stern and lay aft on our starboard quarter, she opened fire again unexpectedly with several salvoes, by which several of my men were killed or wounded, and fresh fires were started. I again gave the crew leave to abandon ship if they could swim and wanted to, as I did not know how long the Sydney would go on firing, and this seemed to be the only possibility of escape. A number of the crew went overboard; some reached the island, some were drowned in the attempt (among them the capable Torpedo-Artificer Pyttlik), some were afterwards dragged back on board. As the Emden was now incapable of fighting, and lay a helpless wreck on a coral reef, I ordered a white flag to be shown in token that the rest of the crew surrendered, and at the same time had the ensign, which was still flying at our main-mast head, hauled down and burnt. Thereupon the Sydney ceased fire.

The commander of the Sydney, Captain Glossop, afterwards gave me the following explanation of the firing. After the Emden had sent the Morse-signal " No signal-book aboard," he had twice asked us by Morse-signal " Do you surrender ? " This was either not seen or not understood aboard the Emden. As he had no reply, and the ensign was still flying at the masthead, and no white flag was shown, he believed that the Emden wanted to continue the fight, and therefore gave the order to fire. This explanation cannot be considered a very sound one when one remembers that the Emden during the last phase of the fight had been unable to fire her guns any more, that she was lying a wreck on the reef, and that by her signal " No signal-book aboard" it was implied that she was ready to negotiate. I can I think say that in his place I should not have behaved so, but that I should have sent a boat to the Emden, probably under a flag of truce. I had also the impression that the whole transaction was later on very painful to Captain Glossop himself, and that he had let himself be persuaded into the affair mainly by his first officer.

After the firing had ceased the Sydney went back to pick up the boats she had cast loose, and sent one of them, with men from the Buresk under the orders of Sub-Lieutenant Fikentscher, to the Emden with the message that the Sydney must first make sure next morning what had happened on Direction Island, and would then come back to rescue the survivors. Luckily the prevailing weather on this and the following day was good, so that with some difficulty boats could lie at the Emden's stern.

I did not consider it quite certain that the Sydney would come back, for I expected that Lieutenant-Commander von Mücke and his landing party would at once set about defending Direction Island and give a hot reception to any English boats that came along. Also it was doubtful whether on the next day boats would be able to come alongside. Consequently I renewed the attempt to establish communications with the land, but, as already described, without success.

About I p.m. on the 10th the Sydney came back and sent two boats with an officer to the Emden with the information that the commander of the Sydney was ready to take aboard the survivors of the Emden's crew, and to rescue any of them who were on North Keeling Island, if I would pass my word that none of our crew would commit a hostile act against the Sydney. I agreed to this. Transhipping was, on account of the prevailing swell, naturally difficult, but was completed with comparative ease; the wounded were first transhipped, then the unwounded. I was the last to leave the ship; before doing so I had, with the help of a few of the officers, petty officers, and crew, fired the forward part of the ship in the between-decks and the battery deck, after pouring over it turpentine and oil, of which, fortunately, we had a very small stock. The ship was still burning next morning, but my hope that she would be quickly and completely destroyed was unfortunately not fulfilled. The commander of the Sydney sent his gig to tranship me, although I had heard beforehand that this would be done and had urgently requested him to refrain from doing so. The taking off of the men on the island was not attempted until the following day, as in the meantime darkness had already fallen; but, to get them ready for transhipping, Sub-Lieutenant Schall was put ashore on the evening of the 10th and stayed the night on the island. During that night Surgeon Schwabe, who had swum to land, succumbed to his wound.

The after-part of the Emden had settled down still more on the 10th of November, so that at high water it was flooded to within three feet of the upper deck; On the following morning one could see the waves from time to time breaking right over the upper deck. The ship was lying with two-thirds of her length actually on the reef. The heavings and concussion caused by the swell to the after-part of the ship were so violent that it seemed as if she must break in two in a comparatively short time.

The longitudinal structure of the hull, however, was so strong that it was a very long time before this happened.

On the 11th of November, after taking aboard the petty officers and men from North Keeling Island, the Sydney proceeded to Colombo. The treatment of prisoners of war aboard her was good, and I must particularly recognise the great care that was taken of the wounded. On board the Sydney Engineer Sub-Lieutenant Stoffers, a petty officer, and two men died of their wounds. On the 13th the slightly wounded and some of the unwounded were transhipped to the auxiliary cruiser Empress of Russia in order to make room on the Sydney. On the 15th the Sydney reached Colombo, where all the wounded were landed and placed in hospital, and all the other survivors of the Emden's crew were distributed among various steamers of the convoy, to be taken to Malta.

Condition of the crew who were in the fight:

(a) killed, drowned, or succumbed to their wounds after the fight, 7 officers, I staff paymaster, 4 warrant officers, 25 petty officers, 92 men, I civilian cook, I barber, and 3 Chinese laundrymen;

(b) severe1y wounded, I warrant officer, 3 petty officers, 17 men;

(c) slightly wounded, 2 officers, 2 warrant officers, 9 petty officers, 31 men;

(d) unwounded, 6 officers, 5 warrant officers, 39 petty officers, 67 men.

The losses were especially heavy among the gun-crews and the ammunition-carriers. I think I may state definitely that in this action, which unfortunately led to the destruction of His Imperial Majesty's Ship Emden, everyone of the officers, warrant officers, petty officers, and men under my command did his duty.

During her three month's cruise the Emden's engines had made 10,000.000 revolutions, representing a course of 30,000 miles. By the good work of the engine-room crew and stokers under the able leader-ship of Engineer-Lieutenant Ellerbroek, who was effectively seconded by Engineer Sub-Lieutenant Stoffers for the main engines, Engineer Sub-Lieutenant Andresen for the auxiliary engines, and Engineer Sub-Lieutenant Haas for the boilers-serious engine troubles during the cruise were avoided, and even minor mishaps were very few in number.